Originally formed in Atlanta, Sound Tribe Sector 9 have as much of an affection for samplers and computers as they do pianos, drums, bass, and guitars. The music is simultaneously progressive and retrospective. Now based in Santa Cruz, Cal., STS9 combines varied musical influences, live instrumentation and the latest in music technology, and this unique blend of musical angles has earned the band and its music numerous features on television and radio, notably CSI and NPRs All Things Considered.
Wanting to give back to their community, STS9 have been devoted to humanitarian efforts with Conscious Alliance and organizing food drives at every show they play. The band often plays benefit concerts, and through a recent partnership the band is offsetting 100% of the carbon emissions created during their "Live As Time Changes" Fall 2006 Tour. STS9 will be rolling from city to city in a carbon neutral bus that has been offset through a donation of renewable energy credits from Green Mountain Energy Company.
Amidst a busy tour, Livewire's Matt Schwenke recently sat down with keyboardist David Phipps before a show to talk about life, life on the road, and what's in the works for the band.
Livewire: What are your earliest musical memories?
David: My father is a choir director and my mom plays piano. So, I've always had music in my house since I was born and my mom played piano when she was pregnant with me. Those piano lessons when I was four years old.
Livewire: Do you remember the first album you bought?
David: I don't remember.
Livewire: Mine was probably somewhere around Def Leppard.
David: Yeah, it was that or a Guns N' Roses album. Appetite for Destruction... or Use Your Illusion - that was the first CD anyway (laughs).
Livewire: Have you ever had to pawn or sell an instrument to pay bills?
David: No, but I've had to borrow money to buy an instrument to keep playing. When something breaks and I just don't have enough money. Like the keyboard I'm playing right now the band bought me because mine broke, so it's not even my keyboard.
Livewire: Do you have a least favorite instrument?
David: No, not really. I can appreciate little things in just about any...
Livewire: How do you listen to music?
David: I'm not as proactive as say (STS9 guitarist) Hunter Brown, in finding music and finding old music. He goes through a lot of music, so a lot of that filters through to Hunter Brown's Best play list, which is probably what I've been listening to most lately. I do a lot of driving between San Francisco and Santa Cruz so I find myself listening to talk radio more than music. Because I work with music all day, you know 8 hours in the studio, that droning talk kind of feels good.
Livewire: Now you guys are putting out a live DVD?
David: Yep, it's out. It should be out in stores in the next week or so.
Livewire: Are you happy with the end product?
David: Yeah. I was probably least involved in that project than anything. In studio albums there's a lot of music I can change and I'm really involved in it. But with the DVD I can't really watch it. I can't watch the whole thing, so I don't know if its cohesive or not.
Livewire: Don't like seeing yourself on film?
David: Yeah exactly. But, the guys who did it, the filming and directing, have some really pro camera work with a flying jib and some other things. It looked pretty good.
Livewire: And I've read there's another studio album in the works?
David: Yeah, there's an STS9 album in the works and we also released the 1320 Mixtape. 1320 is our record label that STS9 started. We also have the opening artists from our tour, like Sub Id, they're on the mixtape. Different incarnations of different band members and other artist collaborations are also listed on that tape under different names. There's a lot of background information that will be listed on the 1320 website soon.
Livewire: Can you give me an idea of what the creative process is like in the band?
David: It's always evolving. The biggest thing is collaboration. There's very few things that will come through the band and the studio and the record without more than one person working on it and giving their input. There's a lot of emphasis put on sharing our work in the early stages-- adding to it, chopping it up, rearranging it. Recently we started playing our traditional instruments a lot more so we were writing more traditional arrangements into our electronics, but we're also still pushing the electronics pretty hard.
Livewire: What was the recent touring experience with J5 and G. Love like?
David: J5 was just one show at Red Rocks and G. Love was just three shows in the southeast. It worked out great. We probably played to a lot of new people. We played in these huge places that we had never gone into before and played for that many people.
Livewire: What's the hardest part for you being on the road?
David: Missing my girl, and having a baby on the way in January.
David: Thank you. It makes it an especially hard tour to be away from her right now. She's got girlfriends staying with her though and helping take care of her.
Livewire: Have there been any runs of tour pranks?
David: Oh yeah. We fuck with our tour manager, endlessly. Last year, the classic one was we would take his bunk and hide it in the bays or in the trailer. And at first he would go "OK, that's cool" but six hours later he's saying "I'm not going to sleep on the floor!" We've also talked cops into arresting people for us before.
Livewire: Has the tour manager ever fought back?
David: Well this guy's a freshie. He's new, so we've yet to get him... We'll get him.
Livewire: Have you ever been arrested or fined for something you were proud of?
David: No, I've never been arrested. Honestly. I grew up in Japan, I moved here when I was 18, so I kept it pretty clean living overseas. Knock on wood.
Livewire: If not a musician, what would you be?
David: I would be some kind of designer. I was in school for industrial design and product design, I was leaning more toward furniture design-- as a craft smith. I like working with wood. More recently, that turned into an interest in sustainability and sustainable design. That's kind of come full circle as I think about maybe building a house and going back to researching sustainable design or green design. That was my big fault in college, it was always in terms of my life or what I needed. I forgot there's all these other people (laughs), so my mantra was basically "Fuck it." I was in the last year of school when I met these guys, and it was an opportunity to go on tour or I could stay in school. I didn't think the opportunity to go on tour would come back but school would always be there. Never came back.
Livewire: What can STS9 fans expect in the next six months? year?
David: Diverse setlists. We're gonna play a full repertoire of old school and new school. Foreshadowing of the Mixtape and all the names that appear on the mixtape. Also our new album that we're trying to put out. I think this a good tour. We probably won't do a big Spring tour like we used to so the fall tour will be the last run of four or five months of shows for a little while.
More Sound Tribe Sector 9
Concert review - Milwaukee, Sept. 14, 2006
Concert review - Milwaukee, Feb. 9, 2006